For Cowboys, home is not where the wins are

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FRISCO, Texas -- The first step in fixing a problem is admitting there is a problem.

On Wednesday, coach Jason Garrett wasn’t willing to admit the Dallas Cowboys have a problem at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys have lost eight consecutive home games, matching the longest home losing streak in team history. If not for some of the most horrendous clock management ever exhibited by the New York Giants in last year’s season opener, the Cowboys would have a nine-game losing streak at their $1.2 billion stadium.

Instead, Tony Romo was able to hit Jason Witten with a winning touchdown in Week 1 last season with seven seconds remaining to win the game.

Since then, the Cowboys have gone winless at home.

“I didn’t even know it was really that bad until you all just said something about it,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said.

For context, Alabama has more victories at AT&T Stadium since the start of the 2015 season. The Crimson Tide beat Wisconsin in the 2015 season opener. They beat Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl in January. They opened the 2016 season with a win over USC.

The cynic would say of all the things Garrett learned from Nick Saban from their time together with the Miami Dolphins, winning at home was not one them.

But what Saban’s Alabama teams have done at AT&T Stadium is rather simple: They have blocked better, tackled better and scored more points.

Some magic formula, huh?

As Garrett stood at the podium Thursday, he once again was greeted with a question about his team’s lack of success at home.

“You have been thinking long and hard how to ask that question. It's a helluva question,” Garrett said. “You guys seem very interested in the schedule for the weekend [Wednesday]. You kept asking me about changing the schedule. Our basic philosophy is we are constantly evaluating what we do and how we do it, the time of when we do it. If we feel like changing our schedule would make a discernible difference to the outcome of a game, we would embrace that change. We make a lot of changes on a daily basis because we think those changes might help our team win.

"My response [Wednesday] is we just need to focus on coaching better and playing better, regardless of where we play -- our stadium, someone else's stadium, in the parking lot and on the moon. And we just need to coach better football and play better football and hopefully that will lead to the outcomes we want.”

Except in 2014, Garrett did alter the itinerary the Cowboys used. You remember 2014, don’t you? The Cowboys went 12-4. They also went 8-0 on the road, the only team to finish undefeated on the road. They were a measly 4-4 at home.

Going into the final home game that season, players arrived at the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine, Texas, by 5 p.m. CT. They beat the Indianapolis Colts 42-7. They followed the same script for the wild-card playoff game two weeks later and beat the Detroit Lions.

“Just really as much as anything else we’ve recreated the feeling that we have in a road game,” Garrett said two years ago.

Since AT&T Stadium opened in 2009, the Cowboys have a 27-30 record in the regular season. Only six teams are worse at home in that span. The last time the Cowboys were this bad at home came in 1988 and ’89 when they lost 14 in a row. They lost their final six games at Texas Stadium in Tom Landry’s last season and all eight games in Jerry Jones’ first as owner and general manager.

In contrast, the New England Patriots are a league-best 53-5 at Gillette Stadium.

Why? They have Bill Belichick and most of the time they have Tom Brady, although Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett have won games there, too. The winning begets winning, and opposing teams enter their stadium practically feeling beaten already.

Theories abound as to why the Cowboys struggle at home. The stadium is so nice, fans sit on their hands. Because of the digital board, it is a place to be seen but not heard. The cost is prohibitive for the average fans. The fans who do pay for personal seat licenses and for the tickets themselves are more than happy to sell seats to recoup some cash from out-of-town fans.

The Cowboys have been forced to go to a silent count at home games because of the noise opposing fans make.

But, as Garrett said, it comes down to blocking and tackling. Plus, the Cowboys have made the playoffs only twice since the stadium opened.

Last season, four of the Cowboys’ seven home losses were by 11 points or more. They lost one in overtime, another by one point, another by three points.

Their Sept. 11 opener was a one-point loss to the Giants, punctuated by Terrance Williams' inability to get out of bounds, allowing time to run out.

“It’s certainly a fair question,” Witten said. “But the bottom line is each week is its own battle. What we love about this game at this level is the challenge is week to week. You’re not looking at it year to year. I get the situation of [the losing streak] being a year, but I really think our team is focused on what allows you to win. The bottom line is we didn’t execute and play well enough in those situations to allow ourselves to win. And that’s it. We’ve worked our tails off to put ourselves in better positions where we can execute and make plays to win those types of games.”